The Seven Lies of Repatriation

Ahhh “Repatriation”

It’s one of those words that you don’t even look up in the dictionary until you start going through it yourself.  For those less traveled it may not even make sense that we would coin a special word for returning to your country after a time away.  It’s confusing for family and friends who just call it “coming home.”

“You must be glad to be coming home!”

“Bet you can’t wait to get home.” 

“It’s about time you came home.”

These are the sentences that either paralyze the typical Repat or cause them to throw up a little in their mouth.  There is no good response.

“Going home” is packed tight with confusion and uncertainty.  There is SO much excitement and SO much anxiety sharing the exact same space in your brain that it can be hard to get a grip on what is real.

So we believe the lies.  In fact sometimes, we create them.

To be fair — this is no conspiracy against the “home” Goers.  Last years repats are not crouched in the shadows, rubbing their bony fingers together and plotting against the newest batch.  However, excitement and anxiety create a fertile ground for misunderstanding.

Maybe you’re packing up and not sure what to believe.  Maybe you’re a Stayer saying “goodbye” (again).  Maybe you’re just glad someone is finally coming home (it’s about time right?).

Regardless . . . there are some things you should consider . . .


Here are 7 lies that Repats often believe:


LIE #1:  The Green Grass Lie

“It’ll all be better when I get on that airplane . . . ”

I get it.  This expat stuff can be stressful — for some more than others.  Crossing cultures, learning languages, eating mystery foods — it’s all an adventure on the front end but rarely stays that way forever.  Ironically the cultural stuff usually isn’t the back breaker.

It’s the relationships.

The broken ones.  The strained ones.  The annoying ones.

The pool of people to connect with is generally shallower when you are away than it is when you are home and the opportunities to escape (at least in a healthy way) are harder to come by.

Regardless of whether your deepest challenges fit in the “cultural”, “relational” or “other” category, it is easy to believe that getting out is going to fix it all.

That’s seldom how it plays out for two reasons:

1.  New issues are waiting for you on the other side of the airplane

2.  Old issues can fly.

You’ll set yourself up for a huge crash if you’re putting all of your hope into escaping to Utopia.  You’ll also leave bits of unresolved brokenness behind you.  Those don’t go away because you do and they don’t stay behind you.


LIE #2.  The Lie of No One Cares

This lie is born out of a surprising discovery that most expats get smacked in the face with on their first trip home (even if they’re only home for a couple of weeks).

We move our lives to a foreign land.  Every day is filled with some new and maddening challenge/adventure.  We bumble around like a blindfolded walrus tripping through the forest and somehow we figure out a way to navigate — but one thing is certain — we come away with stories.

Good stories.

Painful stories

Funny stories.

And we can’t wait to tell them.

So the first time someone says “Ohh. You spent two years in China?  How was that?” — we think they really want to know . . . in detail.

So we tell them . . .

. . . and it stings a little when we find out they were hoping we could sum up the whole experience in 20 seconds or less.

Or they reduce two years of our life to, “yeah that’s just like when we took a cruise to the Bahamas”.

Or they get excited because their doctor is from Japan.

Or they slap us on the back and say, “HA! Eat any dogs lately?!”

Or they don’t even ask at all.

It is especially shocking when the people we expected to be most interested (typically friends and family) are the least interested.

So it makes sense then, that the repats would feel like no one cares.

But that is a lie for two reasons:

 1.  Caring goes beyond frame of reference.  People have an understanding about your host culture that may be restricted to what they have seen on the evening news — or a hometown stereotype — or a bad joke.  They’re not going to be as connected as you are and to be fair —  you don’t really care that much about their cruise.  Let them off the hook.  They may not even know the right questions to ask but that doesn’t mean they don’t care.

2.  Everyone ≠ No one.  Just because EVERYONE doesn’t want to hear your stories does not mean that NO ONE does.  They are out there.  They may not be the people you thought they would be — but they are there.  Be patient.  The listeners are worth the wait.  When you find them — it is glorious.


 3.  The Lie of Going Back

“I’ve learned that you don’t go back . . . but you do go forward.”

I heard this a few weeks ago from a man who was packing up both literally and figuratively.  He was in the final days of a decades long cross-cultural experience that has taken him to both Asia and the Middle East.  It’s not the first time he has repatriated so he has the benefit of gleaning from his own wisdom.


Two things change when you go away from home.

You . . . and home.

Your world gets rocked when you see it from another one.  Your perspectives are stretched.  Your positions are challenged.  Your understandings grow.  It’s not uncommon for repats to feel like they are a completely different person than they were when they came in.

Here’s the kicker — moving away is not WHY you changed.

Try going to your high school reunion and finding someone who didn’t change.  Had you never left you would still be a different person.  You might be a different, different person but you would be different nonetheless.  Your expat experience is just a part of the story of HOW you changed.

You’re going forward to a different place with different people . . . and you are different.

That’s a whole lot of different.

You’re in for a shock if you think you’re going back to the same.


4. The Lie of “These People”

“These people just don’t get it.”

“These people are so caught up in their own little world.”

It’s all too easy for the globetrotter to turn judgy when they reconnect with their homeland.  Ironically it’s the same phenomenon that occurs when we cross cultures in the first place.  We start dropping the “THEY” bomb (usually as soon as we land) on every situation that doesn’t make sense.

“THEY eat some weird stuff.”

“THEY drive like maniacs.”

“THEY have no respect for personal space.”

It’s hard sometimes, to see the trees for the forest so we lump THEM all together and we notice what THEY do that is different from US.  The unstated insinuation, of course, is that OUR way is the right way and THEIR way is wrong.  There are seminars to help you process the fallacy of this kind of thinking when you’re preparing to travel abroad — but it’s often a shock when we come back the other way.  Who would have guessed that ALL of the people who used to be SO right would become SO wrong while we were away.

It took some time for me to realize that my time abroad (the first time) had not granted me total enlightenment.  However, I did notice that people started gritting their teeth when I began EVERY SINGLE sentence with, “In China we . . . “

I could tell what they were thinking . . .

“This guy just doesn’t get it.”

“This guy is so caught up in his own little world.”

They were wrong about me (at least partially) — but I was wrong about them too.

Prepare to cut some slack.


 5.  The Lie of Never Again

Going home farewells can be harder than the leaving home ones.  Don’t get me wrong — it’s not easy to leave home but there is generally a sense that you will see these people again.  They are your people.  This is your place.  You’ll be back.

That’s not likely the case when you end your expat time.  It’s hard to imagine investing the same amount of time and money in a trip back to your host country as you would to your home country.  Even if you do you’re likely to discover that it changed even more dramatically and more quickly than home did.

There is a truth here.  It will NEVER be EXACTLY the same — even if you make it back.

BUT (and this is a big but) don’t settle for the lie that you will NEVER see any of these people again.

Two things give hope here:

 1.  LIFERS are worth it:  The investment that is.  If you are saying goodbye to some Lifers (friends who will be friends regardless of time and distance) don’t settle for never again.  You may need to rearrange your priorities but reconnection is worth spending your frequent flyer miles, saving your pocket change and skipping Disneyland.  The return on that investment is outstanding.

Click here to read more about Lifers:  Hello Again – The Unanticipated Bright Side of Perpetual Goodbyes 

2.  Distance has been redefined:  Global people use a different measuring stick.  When I was growing up we MIGHT drive across town to see someone we hadn’t seen in awhile.  Now if friends can make it to the same half of the country we’ll find a way to catch up.  I’m amazed at how many random reconnections (along with some near misses) we’ve been able to have with people all around the planet.  It’s exciting when it happens.

Never say never.


6.  The Lie of Re-Becoming

There is a fear that many repatriates share.  It goes something like this:

“I’m afraid that I will slip back into my old life and become who I was before I moved abroad.”

We fear that our broadened horizons will re-narrow.  That we’ll settle back into the comforts and conveniences of home so much so that we’ll forget what it was like to live on the other side.

  • That our political focus will be only local.
  • That our worship will be painfully monocultural.
  • That we will forget what genuine community looks like.
  • That we will lose our grasp on world events.
  • That our friends will only speak our language(s).
  • That our neighbors will look, act and think like us.
  • That we’ll start liking sad imitations of ethnic foods and forget what the “real thing” actually is.

We’re petrified that we’ll start laughing at the same old jokes, chasing the same old ambitions and settling into the same old values (maybe even prejudices) that living away has broken us out of.

I say fair enough.  The fear is legitimate BUT to believe that there is no other option is to fall for a lie.

Settling comes naturally — so be unnatural.

  • Watch international news.
  • Befriend foreigners.
  • Keep learning language.
  • Enjoy people who push you, stretch you and disagree with you even when you don’t have to.
  • Explore.
  • Celebrate your host culture’s holidays.
  • Travel every chance you get.

Most importantly — think it through.  Sit down and spend some quality time contemplating the skills, the values and the experiences that are a part of your story because you lived abroad.  Get creative.  How are you going to hold on to those?


7.  The Brown Grass Lie

For every impending Repat who can’t wait to get on the plane there is one who is dreading it.

There is no shortage of repatriation chatter.  In an effort to be “truth tellers” and good processors we hone in on the painful parts. We find comfort in the other broken people.

It’s not a bad thing.

But when you’re packing up it can freak you out.

The stories are real.

People actually do break down in the cereal aisle.  They get overwhelmed by their own language.  They forget how to pay bills and stand in line and cross the street.  They feel isolated in crowds and unnoticed at their own homecoming parties.

It’s all true.

But keep in mind — we only talk about the surprises.  The shocks.  The stuff we didn’t see coming.  The best bits get overshadowed by the bumblings and we forget to write about the fact that even though we are different and so is home . . . it’s good to be there.

Repatriation is usually hard.  But hard doesn’t mean NOT good.

Don’t buy the lie that repatriating can’t be good.  It most certainly can.


How about you?

Been there? — Spread a little hope.  Share your best Repat moments.

About to repatriate?  — What are you afraid of?  Looking forward to?

Welcoming someone home? — What’s your plan for doing it well?


Comment below and pass it on.





  1. Thank you for this. We are almost a year back in our passport country and I have wrestled with all of these lies. Thank you for explaining them so well. One thing that has helped me in my grief is to recount all the things I’m thankful for and how I see God working out the details. He is faithful regardless of my current home.

    • Thanks couscouslady. May I call you couscouslady? Ms. Couscous? I find that there is usually a time in transition where I realize that I have gradually gotten off track in the thankfulness category. Easy to get sidetracked and self absorbed in the chaos of change. Good reminder to reset.

  2. So it’s coming on 2 years in the passport country after 40 years in Japan. This repatriate thing just takes time, awareness and skill. We decided early on that the skills we began using decades ago in Japan (and which we were still using the day we left) were still valid and valuable, so we applied them to “here”. We are living in a corner of the country we have never lived in before, and yes: There are historical, cultural, geological, weather-related, and language things that we have learned since “arriving” with everything we own in one place for the first time in 45 years. One thing that just happened, though, was something we didn’t know we “needed”: A visit from the one child who does not live here (the other 2 and two granddaughters do) helped us establish a “homestead”. You know, that place where everyone gathers because mom and dad are “here” and not for “just awhile until…”. We are no longer transient; there are no plans to move yet again…except maybe within the city if we could ever get the down payment together. Overall, it’s been good…and I agree with one commenter that God does indeed work the details out; He is faithful in all corners of this crazy planet.

    • Martie — 40 years. Wow. I can imagine that repatriation is a completely different experience following four decades. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and for reading. Blessings as you continue to discover what a non-transient homestead looks like.

  3. I remember when my mother returned after four years in Africa. She had forgotten that the dryer filter had to be emptied and was about to insist on buying a new dryer when her dryer would get hot, but the clothes wouldn’t dry.

    • Love it.

  4. I’m in the process of repatriating. Thirty-eight days to re-entry after just two years abroad– and I’m seriously not trying to count down, but people keep asking me! Especially the ones who know how hard it’s been, the ones who expect me to be yearning for “home,” not realizing home has changed for me to the point that “home” as a concept is more a frame of mind than an actual physical location.

    So I do worry. I worry that this international person I have become, capable of seeing more than one point of view, capable of identifying with my host country’s inhabitants, loving to try to bridge for those who have never considered it the way that it is, I worry that this new me will become absorbed in the American me-that-was, and wither away her days on the back burner, with never an opportunity to come out and stretch her wings. Perhaps it’s really ridiculous, and like Martie Tarter said above, you just have to apply your “you that you are” to the “place where you are.” For right now though… I’m just holding tight to the One who brought me this far and trying to hold tight to the hope of the promise of what’s next– and trying to hold everything else pretty loosely!

    • Thanks Lyndi — You are not alone. I’ve talked to a lot of people who share that fear. I think the tension pushes us to not settle for settling and our faith offers us contentment regardless. Content and unsettled are not necessarily opposites. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Love it… “Old issues can fly.” Actually had the meltdowns on both sides of the repat and expat pendulum 🙂 … Learning that it is OK. Much Love to you all.

    • Thanks Mak. You are not alone in the meltdown category. 🙂

  6. Just talked with a little one today about the mixed emotions of repatriation. It was nice to have some time with him to process all the good, bad, ugly, exciting and scary about moving back to a place called “home”.

  7. Very cool Lauren. I think those processing moments with people who get it are golden. I’m always shocked and not at the same time when I discover something that my kids are carrying around and need to process about transition. I usually try to fix it before I catch myself and realize they just need a safe place to get it out. What you do is a big deal. Thanks for doing it.

  8. Thank you for this; I read it in the car on the way back from saying yet another “good bye” and cried a bit –
    I have gone through the expat/repat process a few times but as a current expat, I am YEARNING to go “home” and I know, intellectually, that it won’t be easy (or soon for that matter) but my heart says its time and I am so ready.
    I have tried for decades to hold on to friendships from afar and my greatest fear is that when I do return “home”, there will be no friends for my old age. I’m ok with my grass being green-ish

  9. I love how I open my email and get a message from friends saying – “have you read this guy?? He really gets it!” And I get to say “YES! I read and quote him all the time!” so just wanted to say that this happened yet again this morning. Have you heard of Families in Global Transition? I’d love for you to speak at that conference. It’s a really fun one, largely because it’s not Christian 🙂

  10. Marilyn – That’s just me posing as your friends. Sorry – I should quit that. Would love to hear more about FIGT. Big fan from afar but I’ve never been to the conference.

  11. My kids don’t ever want to go “home”, they’ve gotten used to transient life, travel, and cultural experiences. They think “home” will be small, boring, and stifling. (which I worry about too) But my 12 year old said he’s gotten good at being the new kid, he doesn’t know how to be the kid that everyone knew before we started our expat journey in 2012. I’d like to stay longer in our current assignment, but family responsibilities back in my home country are playing on my sense of duty. Its a constant conflict, especially when you have older parents who aren’t willing to travel. The struggle is real!

  12. I’m glad you mentioned the “melt down in the cereal isle”. That struggle is real. Although, I think it matters some on where you are an expat. In our host country, we live in a remote interior African village. On our first time back “home” my son (10 years old at the time) and I went grocery shopping after being back in the States for about 2 weeks. We stood before the meat section like deer in the headlights. He finally said, “Mom, don’t they just have liver?!?” This shocked a poor elderly lady standing next to us… “Did that little boy just ask for LIVER?” I imagine that we looked much like “The Beverly Hillbillies” looking for hog jowls and possum innards. I stuttered out, “Yes…um…my kids like liver.” I so did not want to go into an explanation of WHY in the middle of the grocery store! She blinked. “Well, I’m sure they do sell that here…” and we parted ways. I thought. She caught up with us a few isles later, a little out of breath, to inform us that the store did indeed sell liver and insisted on showing us where. Oh my. Unfortunately, supply and demand had not been good for the liver market…it was the same per pound as steak!

    We are now getting ready for another trip back to the States (should be there about 6 months). It will be good to remember these! Thank you!!!

  13. Yeah, so I am enjoying reading all these comments, and seeing others of like minds! Nice, I am a re-pat…for the second round, 1st after 10 years in UK. Now we’ve been back in our passport country for 10 months after 9 years in SE Asia. 2nd go, so thought I was ready, but I was wrong. This round I am much older, at a different stage of life, with depleted health and strength and it seems I am still struggling with some of the sorrows of working with others who lived in deep poverty,sorrow and oppression and little to no education. Death has claimed my friends, relatives and colleagues from both worlds. So I am trying to figure it all out day by day, but this one thing I know, God has shown to me infinite mercy and kindness, provided all my needs and more and has invited me to rest. One thing I have greatly enjoyed since returning is running hot water, clean hospitals, and family nearby. Though far away friends are still missed and loved, He is bringing me new ones. Thanks for posting guys. PS I totally connect with the fumbling at check-outs, with new coins and new bank cards etc…

  14. I am fortunate to be able to go “home” to America for a yearly visit, so am not really repatriating, but I find things in this post that resonate with me when it comes to my annual trip home. When I read #2,The Lie That No One Cares, I actually felt the tears unexpectedly well up. I feel like I have so many stories to tell of what I see God doing, not only through the work I am involved with, but also around me, through the lives of Africans and other missionaries alike. There is a part of me that (perhaps selfishly) wants people to care, to understand what life is like here, not just the joys but also the sorrows and the hard things. I always am saddened when I realize that many people don’t really want to hear those stories – especially when it’s my family members or close friends. But there are always those who do, who rejoice at what God is doing, or genuinely want to understand my life here in Africa. Many of these people pray for me faithfully. I really want to remember that “Everyone doesn’t equal No One”. Thanks for the reminder to refocus!

  15. Great article. I’ve only been gone for fourteen months, so I don’t know if it really counts, but I can relate to a lot of what you wrote! 🙂 cheers

  16. This is a really fresh take on the repat wave that is a hot topic this time of year. I’ve expatted (for 10 years) and repatted (for 3 years) and expatted again (1 year and counting), and I felt most if not all of your points. We’re currently on our 6th country and everytime I opened my mouth back home, people’s eyes would glaze over…but it’s not a lack of interest, it’s just hard to relate to someone who starts a story with ‘when we lived in…’ So, yeah, it’s all about readjusting, tweaking your impulse to share share share. I found the biggest issue I had was that I no longer felt unique, you know? It felt weird to just be ‘normal’. I really agree with your point that you have to work hard to keep your expat years alive, read international news, stretch your comfort zones, push the boundaries of your normal. Thanks 🙂

  17. I love this. Thanks so much for writing. I live in a developed country where English is the language spoken but that doesn’t mean that going back to my passport country isn’t without its challenges. I think that for me one of the problems is the greener grass – I only ever go back for a few weeks at a time and it’s long enough to really enjoy everything but not long enough for the honeymoon phase to pass and reality to set in.

    And regarding #2 above, I’m now running debriefing retreats for missionaries so that they can tell their stories, in depth, with people who do know how to ask the right questions. As you say, it’s not that other people don’t care, it’s just that some don’t know how to show their care and perhaps are afraid of asking the wrong questions so back off.

    May I use these seven lies in my retreats? I think they will really help people talk about their experiences and get some helpful perspectives.

  18. Currently on day 17 of repatriation after 12+ years abroad. My first week was all meltdowns all over the place. Second week is a bit better…but the aching in my gut for my host country is a steady. I completely related with each and every point made here. Still in the mindset of wondering if I needed to leave to realise that I fit better there and should stay (go back). Talking it day by day, hoping each gets better.
    Thanks for your writings. <3

  19. After 5+ years in South America, preparing to move back Stateside. I think Lucille named it: the no longer being unique. If part of my identity has been being the ‘gringa’, it’s tempting to want to hold onto how I’m different because of having lived overseas – ie. not even really trying to readjust. Thanks for the thoughtful post and the sincere comments everyone!


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